Zev Birger likes to quote an American publisher who told him once what made the Jerusalem International Book Fair so special. "He said, 'It's big enough to be businesslike, and small enough to be human,'" says the chairman and managing director of the fair, who has himself become almost synonymous with the event.
This year, a number of events are planned for the week-long biennial fair, taking place for the 23rd time, that guarantee that even those who are not there for the business will find something entertaining and maybe even educational. The following is a non-exhaustive selection of some of the special programs that will be open to visitors to the fair, which opens Sunday night at Jerusalem's International Conference Center - Binyanei Ha'uma.
Several times a day, throughout the fair, the Literary Cafe will be active, giving audiences, seated around tables, a chance to sit in on a conversation between an Israeli host and one or more foreign authors. "We hope this will be the 'heart' of the book fair," says Tsila Hayun, whose company Hotam Cultural Projects is organizing the Cafe. "It will be an opportunity for Israeli audiences to meet, over a cup of coffee, with a variety of writers, many of whom are very famous in their own land, but who may be unfamiliar here."
Guests at the Cafe will range from Michael Berenbaum, executive editor of the recently published second edition of the Encyclopaedia Judaica, who, together with Prof. Isaiah Friedman, the editor of the 22-volume encyclopaedia's articles on Zionism, will be interviewed by Channel One's Oren Nahari (Monday, 8:00 P.M.), to popular Italian writer Erri de Luca, who will be hosted by singer Achinoam Nini, for a program of Neapolitan songs and talk (Tuesday, 6 P.M.).
Overall, the Literary Cafe will host 18 different programs during the course of the fair, each of which is free, with first-come, first-served seating, and simultaneous translation into Hebrew, for conversations taking place in other languages. Other literary couplings include journalist Uri Dromi talking with award-winning Jewish-Polish journalist Pawel Smolenski (Wednesday, 5:00 P.M.); Aharon Appelfeld speaking with Italian writer Alain Elkann about the role of the Jewish intellectual in Europe (Thursday, 8 P.M.); young adult-fiction author Uri Orlev talking with David Weinfeld about his new book, "Poems from Bergen-Belsen," written in Polish by the child Yuri Orlansky and translated into Hebrew by the adult Uri Orlev (Tuesday, 8 P.M.); as well as special presentations by Gilli Bar-Hillel, who has rendered all the Harry Potter books into Hebrew (Wednesday, 5 P.M.), and Amos Oz, who will use the occasion to give the world a first look at his new novella, "Haruzei Hahayim Vehamavet" (Rhymes of Life and Death), on Wednesday, at 8 P.M. The fair's official opening takes place Sunday night, and includes the presentation of the Jerusalem Prize for the Freedom of the Individual in Society to Polish philosopher Leszek Kolakowski. But the real nitty-gritty gets under way Monday morning, with a conference entitled "Israeli High-Tech Meets the World's Publishing Industry," which will include talks by venture capitalist Yossi Vardi; Santiago de la Mora, strategic partner manager for Google Booksearch in London; and Israel's Dov Alfon, the editor-in-chief of Kinneret-Zmora-Bitan; as well as brief presentations by the heads of a number of Israeli high-tech start-ups.
"Reading AdVentures," a two-day international conference for the promotion of reading, both among children and adults, begins on Tuesday, and brings together more than a dozen speakers from abroad with many dozens of Israelis from the fields of education, library science, publishing, as well as writers themselves. Advance registration is required - conference director Miriam Posner, from the Center for Educational Technology, says 600 participants are expected - and can be done via the Web site (www.reading- adventures.co.il), which also has extensive descriptions of the programs.
Among the guests from abroad are Prof. Stephen Krashen, an American expert on bilingual education (and according to the Web site, the 1977 Incline Bench Press champion of Venice Beach, CA); Dr. Allison Drin, from the University of Maryland, who is research leader for the International Children's Digital Library (www.childrenslibrary.org), the world's largest online library of children's literature; and Prof. William Teale, of the University of Illinois, Chicago, an expert on early literacy.
One of the most successful ongoing programs at the book fair, one that's been ongoing since 1985, brings together young editors from a number of different countries for a week of meetings with Israeli writers and publishing people, as well as a variety of activities meant to introduce them to Israel. Neta Goren, the fair's program director, says that this year's group of 52 editors is the largest so far, and was chosen from among 150 applicants. The only part of the program that is open to the public is a Wednesday morning talk to be given to the fellows and a bunch of "alumni" editors from fairs past, by Larry Kirshbaum, former CEO and chairman of the Time-Warner Book Group. A little over a year ago, Kirshbaum opened his own boutique literary agency, LJK Literary Management.
He told Haaretz by e-mail that he intends to use his talk to discuss the place that the industry continues to have, "as a reliable source of communal wisdom in the fractured, tormented, and adversarial world that we live in today," and how pursuing a career in the field forces the publisher to "walk a tightrope strung between financial/marketing logistics on one side, and an instant electronic culture on the other side, where anything longer than a sound bite has a hard time getting noticed, much less appreciated."
One of the busiest of several national pavilions that will be in place in Jerusalem will be that of Italy, which will host several cultural events a day, usually in Italian or in Hebrew, or both. Among those that sound most eccitante will be an interview with Zvi Yanai, the well-known Israeli popularizer of science, whose memoir of growing up in fascist Italy (he almost became a priest) has just been published in both Hebrew and Italian (Monday, 4:00 P.M.); and Italian-Israeli novelist Shulim Vogelmann, who will present his popular "Mentre la citta' bruciava" (While the City Burnt), with the help of Haaretz's Avirama Golan and novelist Benny Barabash (Tuesday, 4 P.M.).
The writer who never sleeps, Martin Gilbert, will stop typing long enough to give a talk entitled "What Can Jews Learn from History? A Jewish Historian Reflects on 40 Years of Research and Travel in Search of Jewish History," a title that speaks for itself. Sir Martin, the official biographer of Winston Churchill and author of numerous works of Jewish history (his Web site tells us that he is now working on a book on "Churchill and the Jews" - no kidding) is scheduled for Wednesday at 5:30 P.M.
Finally, author Ami Gedalya will receive the Trudi Birger Award for "best children's book that inspires relentless devotion to the community," for her recent novel "Uriah Fights Back," about a girl who decides to campaign for the human rights of foreign workers in Israel, and takes her campaign all the way to the office of the interior minister. The award was established two fairs ago, shortly after the death of Trudi Birger, the wife of the JIBF's chairman. A Holocaust survivor (her memoir about her childhood, "A Daughter's Gift of Love," has been published in 19 languages), she devoted her life to providing care for the underprivileged children of Jerusalem. The prize was established in her memory by a group of international publishers. The prize ceremony takes place on Monday, at 3:00 P.M.
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